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Big ideas for small dining rooms

Melanie Whitehouse / 06 April 2016

You may only have a small space for eating but you can still give your dining room some ‘wow’ factor with some clever design tricks.

Dining room
A round table is easier for people to squeeze past in a small space

Dining rooms are never easy. If they’re a formal space in a large house, they rarely get used; if they’re a tiny space in a flat or cottage, they’re never big enough when guests come to dinner. 

Given so many of us downsize as we get older and have to fit a lifetime’s collection of furniture, crockery and treasures into a much smaller home, that can present a challenge – but there are plenty of ways to beat the squeeze.

Related: make the most of your space

Chairs and benches

Butt up furniture tight to the wall, so it takes up as little space as possible. It can always be pulled out when you have guests.

Benches are key in a small space and can seat more small bottoms than a chair – ideal for when the grandchildren come round. Choose a design that tucks under the table when not in use.

Need more storage (and who doesn’t)? Pick a bench that includes storage space below, where you can put serving bowls and crockery that is only used occasionally.

Choose space-saving stackable or foldaway chairs, and hang the latter neatly on a hook on the wall. There’s no room for chairs with arms if space is tight!

Build banquette-style benches, with storage below, into an alcove or bay window, and site your table between them. Cover bench cushions with the same fabric you’ve used at the window, to create unity.

Related: revamp your kitchen on a budget

Dining tables

If your dining room is basically a cubbyhole, consider having a table custom-made, with built-in banquette-style seating down each side. The table can be made to fit, and supported by a single metal pole, secured to the floor, meaning there’s no problem with intrusive table legs.

Round or oval designs are sometimes better than square or rectangular as you can get more people round them.

Tables can be wall-hung - you just unhinge them and lower the tabletop, then clip it back into place after eating.

Related: 10 rules of interior design


Keep it plain and simple – a small dining room is no place for distracting, highly patterned wallpaper.

Paint all the woodwork, ceilings and walls in the same pale neutral and keep flooring light, too. Alternatively, use just two light shades but in the same tone, like ivory and duck egg.

Introduce pattern with soft furnishings – a simple blind at the window and cushions in the same fabric on chairs.

Add an embroidered, vintage linen tablecloth for a touch of individuality.

Is your dining room off your kitchen? Use the same colour scheme in both areas to provide continuity.

Related: what paint where


Even in a small space you can get away with something big; an oversized pendant lamp, hung directly over the dining table and fitted to a dimmer switch to create mood lighting, is perfect here.

There are some vibrantly-coloured, industrial-style pendant shades around this season from places like Graham & Green ( that will make an instant statement. If money’s tight, a huge paper lantern is an alternative.

Related: how to make a dark room brighter

And the rest…

Put up a big mirror to give the impression that the room is bigger than it is. Be careful where you site it, though - you don’t want guests feeling uncomfortable because they’re staring at their reflection throughout the meal.

Add floating shelving to one wall and stack china neatly. This works best when crockery is united by either colour or theme, so opt for just one shade or go for a mix of vintage pieces.

Put your best glasses and glassware on one shelf – they will sparkle beautifully in the light, particularly if they’re cut crystal.

Treating yourself to new china? Keep it plain – food always tastes best when eaten off white plates!

Related: how to breathe new life into tired decor

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.